It was a sultry Saturday morning in February with a forecast of late afternoon showers in Bengaluru. However, it didn't cast a cloud on the road trip to Haranahalli, a village in Hassan district, one of the 30 districts of Karnataka.
We picked Haranahalli as the year's first destination for two reasons: a pleasant drive of three hours from the city and that a segment of the family line had lived there 250 years ago. The drive was mainly on highways, and around the three-hour-mark the GPS instructed us to turn off the highway into a two-carriageway road that passed narrow roads leading to intriguingly named villages.
Going by the blue patches on the map, there were plenty of lakes (kere) in this belt, all worthy of a pitstop and a hearty picnic basket. Soon, the road to Harananhalli appeared, leading to the main road. There were some fruit vendors around; one of them urged us to visit the Lakshminarasimha Temple nearby. "No one goes there," she said as if we would be doing the deity a favour.
Soon, the unassuming frontage of the temple appeared in sight. But on that day, the massive wooden doors were locked. A bunch of boys instructed us to call the phone number scrawled on the main door and wait. Ten minutes later, the priest’s assistant arrived on an old bicycle. The doors were thrown open. The sight beyond was, simply put, divine. Haranahalli temple
At the far end of a well-maintained garden, the squat temple stood on a raised platform. The new arrival pointed out that unlike the temples at Halebid and Belur, both erstwhile Hoysala capitals, this Lakshminarasimha Temple is barely known. It has an inconspicuous front because there is no gopuram at the entrance.
The assistant recalled a grand example of 13th century Hoysala architecture, with temples usually built on elevated star-shaped platforms. The older ones were granite and didn’t have very many carvings. But the later ones, like the , were built with softer soapstone and embellished with intricate graven images.
Inside the temple are three shrines (Lakshminarasimha, Krishna and Vishnu) that share a common vestibule or mantap, with gorgeous lathe-turned pillars and a ceiling decorated with detail. Carved panels depict scenes of the period and images of the ninth Hoysala king, Vira Someswara, who built the edifice some panels bear inscriptions in ‘halle kannada’.
We strolled around the prakaram, where columns run along the circumference, decorated with bands. The boys who had come in with us pointed out the birds (hansas) and the fishes (makara) detailed on the bands and imitated the poses of the sculptures.
They told us about the nearby Somesvara Temple. "It's less ornate," they said. The smallest boy added, "Robbers stole the lingam. Since it happened when we were sleeping, we couldn’t stop them."
A titter ran around the room and the children offered to take us there. We walked around the desolate yet beautiful exterior of the temple, the enthusiastic spirit of the children making the atmosphere lively and upbeat.
It then struck us that what had set out to be a road trip to a village, not once visited by the current members of the family, panned out to be an experience of Hoysala grandeur. Filled with the grand visual experience and the infectious cheer of the kids, we were back home in time to catch the rains.